Gum arabic

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Acacia t19

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Code: f297
Latin name: Acacia spp.
Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)
Common names: Gum arabic, Arabic gum, Acacia gum
Food
A food additive, which may result in allergy symptoms in sensitised individuals.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Gum arabic has been used for at least 4,000 years. The substance is a gummy exudate derived from trees of the species Acacia senegal and its close relatives. The trees are found in Sudan, Senegal, Nigeria and other semi-arid regions. The dried exudate is odourless, colourless and tasteless, and often occurs in response to infection. To stimulate production of this exudate, wounds are intentionally made. A distinguishing characteristic among natural gums is that Gum arabic dissolves rapidly in water.
 
Environment
Gum arabic is a thickener, emulsifier, and stabiliser, and a glazing and flavouring agent. It is often used to retard sugar crystallisation. It is considered a valuable food in parts of Asia and Africa.
It is a complex polysaccharide, primarily indigestible to both humans and animals, not degraded in the intestine, but fermented in the colon under the influence of microorganisms. Apple fiber and Gum arabic reportedly lower total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in men with mild hypercholesterolemia (1).
 
Unexpected exposure
Gum arabic is a demulcent in cosmetics and medicines. It is often an ingredient in toiletries. It is an anti-offset agent in printing, and is also important in lithography, in the manufacture of inks and adhesives, in the textile industry and in the production of galactose (2).
 
Combretum gums, readily available at low prices, may be offered for sale as “Gum arabic”. Vigilance is necessary to detect such misrepresentations, because Combretum gums differ greatly from Gum arabic (3).
 
Allergens
In a study, Gum arabic-specific IgE antibodies of a patient were directed  mainly against the carbohydrate fraction of the material; due to the repetitive polysaccharide sequence of Gum arabic, several epitopes for the cross-linking of IgE should exist (2).
 
Potential Cross-Reactivity
An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the genus could be expected but in fact is not seen frequently (4). In an in vitro study, the specific IgE binding by protein extracts of 11 food legumes was examined by RAST and RAST inhibition. Cross-allergenicity was demonstrated to be most marked among the extracts of Peanut, Garden pea, Chick pea, and Soybean (5, 6).
 
However, clinical studies have found that there is little cross-reactivity among members of the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) (7-9).
 
Cross-reactivity between Gum arabic and Tragacanth gum has been reported (10).

Clinical Experience

IgE-mediated reactions
Gum arabic may uncommonly induce symptoms of asthma, allergic rhinitis, eczema, contact dermatitis and food allergy in sensitised individuals (2, 11, 12).
 
A study reports on a male who experienced 4 allergic incidents after drinking coffee. Dual sensitisation to coffee and to the Gum arabic coating of roasted coffee beans was demonstrated by skin-specific IgE and by human basophil degranulation tests. Two serious anaphylactic reactions with cardiac arrest occurred, which were attributed to concomitant treatment with beta-blocking eye drops (Timolol). Beta-blocking drugs produce a loss of compensatory cardiovascular mechanisms and make those who take them resistant to the conventional treatment for anaphylactic shocks, which explains the serious accidents that occurred in this patient (13).
 
Occupations where workers may be exposed to Gum arabic include cosmetics, ceramics, fireworks, carpet and other textile manufacturing, the food and pharmaceutical industries, hairdressing, printing, and mining.
 
Allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema caused by Gum arabic in workers in a candy factory have been reported (11, 14).
 
Occupational allergy from mist inhalation in printers has been reported and is called “Printer's Asthma” (15-17). Allergy reactions have also been reported in patients working in the pottery and lithography industries (12, 18) and occupational asthma in printers and carpet manufacturers (19).
 
Other reactions
Chronic alveolitis due to repeated and prolonged inhalation of sweets containing Gum arabic is reported in a study (20).
 
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com

References

  1. Mee KA, Gee DL. Apple fiber and gum arabic lowers total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in men with mild hypercholesterolemia. J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97(4):422-4
  2. Fotisch K, Fah J, Wuthrich B, Altmann F, Haustein D, Vieths S. IgE antibodies specific for carbohydrates in a patient allergic to gum Arabic (Acacia senegal). Allergy 1998;53(11):1043-51
  3. Anderson DM, Morrison NA. The identification of Combretum gums which are not permitted food additives, II. Food Addit Contam 1990;7(2):181-8
  4. Yman L. Botanical relations and immunological cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09
  5. Barnett D, Bonham B, Howden ME. Allergenic cross-reactions among legume foods--an in vitro study. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1987;79(3):433-8
  6. Bardare M, Magnolfi C, Zani G. Soy sensitivity: personal observation on 71 children with food intolerance. Allerg Immunol (Paris) 1988;20(2):63-6
  7. Bernhisel Broadbent J, Sampson HA. Cross-allergenicity in the legume botanical family in children with food hypersensitivity. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1989;83:435-440
  8. Bernhisel-Broadbent J, Taylor S, Sampson HA. Cross-allergenicity in the legume botanical family in children with food hypersensitivity. II. Laboratory correlates. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1989;84(5 Pt 1):701-9
  9. Eigenmann PA, Burks AW, Bannon GA, Sampson HA. Identification of unique peanut and soy allergens in sera adsorbed with cross-reacting antibodies. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1996;98(5 Pt 1):969-78
  10. Raghuprasad PK, Brooks SM, Litwin A, Edwards JJ, Bernstein IL, Gallagher J. Quillaja bark (soapbark)--induced asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1980;65(4):285-7
  11. Kilpio K, Kallas T, Hupli K, Malanin K. Allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema caused by gum arabic in a candy factory worker. [Finnish] Duodecim 2000;116(22):2507-9
  12. van Ketel WG. Simultaneous sensitization to gum arabic and cobalt. Contact Dermatitis 1984;10(3):180
  13. Moneret-Vautrin DA, Kanny G, Faller JP, Levan D, Kohler C. Severe anaphylactic shock with heart arrest caused by coffee and gum arabic, potentiated by beta-blocking eyedrops. [French] Rev Med Interne 1993;14(2):107-11
  14. Kilpio K, Kallas T, Hupli K, Malanin K. Allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema caused by gum arabic in a candy factory worker. [Finnish] Duodecim 2000;116(22):2507-9
  15. King JH. Asthma and allergic rhinitis due to gum arabic in off-set spray. J Med 1941;2:119
  16. Fowler PBS. Printers' asthma Lancet 1952;2:755-7
  17. Schwarting H. Occupational allergy in printers. Printers asthma. Occupational Allergy Vol 1. Leiden 1958:278-89
  18. Ilchyshyn A, Smith AG. Gum arabic sensitivity associated with epidemic hysteria dermatologica. Contact Dermatitis 1985;4:282-3
  19. Quirce S, Sastre J. Occupational asthma [Review]. Allergy 1998;53:633-641
  20. de Fenoyl O, Capron F, Guyon F, Lebeau B, Rochemaure J. Inhalation pneumonia presenting as a pneumocystis infection. [French]

 

As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.